Disney Goes Viral, Cuts ‘Star Wars: Episode I’ 25 Years After Release

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(Foreground) Jar Jar Binks in 'The Phantom Menace' (Background) Coruscant Level 1313 from 'The Clone Wars'

Credit: Lucasfilm

In a galaxy not so far away, Star Wars has long been a franchise known for its epic stories and dedicated fanbase. Yet, not all entries in this expansive universe have been met with universal acclaim.

One of the series’ most polarizing films is Star Wars: Episode IThe Phantom Menace (1999). Now, with Disney’s latest venture, the franchise takes a bold step by positioning this new series as the chronological starting point for Star Wars live-action stories.

Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) Darth Maul (Ray Park) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in the Duel of the Fates in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Credit: Lucasfilm

When The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999, it was an event of monumental proportions. This film marked George Lucas’s return to directing after a 22-year hiatus since Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). Set 32 years before the original trilogy, the movie aimed to shed light on the early days of Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader, and the events that led to the rise of the Galactic Empire.

The hype surrounding The Phantom Menace was unprecedented. Fans eagerly anticipated a deeper dive into the Star Wars lore, only to be met with a mixed reception.

The film introduced characters like Qui-Gon Jinn, Jar Jar Binks, and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, while exploring controversial concepts such as midichlorians, which redefined the Force in a way that didn’t sit well with everyone. Despite its financial success, grossing over $1 billion globally, the movie was criticized for its heavy reliance on CGI and a plot that some found convoluted.

Qui-Gon with his lightsaber on Naboo, ready to face Darth Maul in 'The Phantom Menace'
Credit: Lucasfilm

As time has passed, The Phantom Menace has gained a more balanced perspective among fans. Many now appreciate its ambitious scope and the foundational story it provided for the prequel trilogy. However, the film’s initial reception still echoes in discussions about the franchise’s direction under Disney’s stewardship.

Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 brought about significant changes to the Star Wars universe. The new trilogy, beginning with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), was designed to captivate a new generation while paying homage to the original films. This era, while commercially successful, has been fraught with debate over character development and narrative decisions, particularly in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017).

Director Rian Johnson’s bold choices divided the fanbase, with some appreciating the fresh approach while others felt it deviated too far from the characters they knew and loved.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'
Credit: Lucasfilm

In the midst of these debates, Disney has also explored the Star Wars universe through television, especially with the advent of Disney+. Series like The Mandalorian have rejuvenated interest in the franchise, proving that new and compelling stories can still be told within this beloved universe.

Enter Star Wars: The Acolyte, which debuted on Disney+ on June 4 with its first two episodes. This series, created by Leslye Headland and starring Amandla Stenberg and Lee Jung-jae, is set at the end of the High Republic era, approximately 100 years before the events of The Phantom Menace. This new timeline placement marks a significant shift, positioning The Acolyte as the inaugural live-action story in the Star Wars chronological order.

A man with long, dark hair and a mustache peers out from behind a weathered wall. An acolyte of forgotten lore, he has a contemplative expression. The surroundings appear rustic and dimly lit, featuring an industrial control panel on the right side of the image.
Credit: Lucasfilm

The Acolyte delves into a period largely unexplored in the live-action Star Wars media: the final days of the High Republic. This era is characterized by peace and prosperity within the Jedi Order, a stark contrast to the darker times depicted in the prequels. The series follows a former Padawan reuniting with her Jedi Master to investigate a series of mysterious crimes, uncovering dark forces that signal the impending rise of the Sith.

The shift in timeline with The Acolyte reflects Lucasfilm’s broader strategy to explore different eras and facets of the Star Wars universe. By setting the narrative in a period of relative calm and focusing on the roots of the dark side’s resurgence, the series promises to offer a fresh perspective and deepen the audience’s understanding of the galaxy far, far away.

Despite its intriguing premise, The Acolyte has received mixed reviews. It garnered a 5.1 out of 10 rating on IMDb and a 31% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The polarized reception underscores the challenges of living up to the lofty expectations of Star Wars fans, who hold the franchise to high standards.

What did you think of The Acolyte’s debut? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments!

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